When my brothers and I got older, Christmas Eve was a special day. Dad would get home from work mid-afternoon. It was always a time of expectation because dad’s bosses gave generous Christmas bonuses to their employees. The first order of business was to find out how much was in the bonus check. The second order of business was to open our presents. The other kids in the neighborhood had to wait to open their gifts, except for our Jewish neighbor. We were jealous of him because he kept getting Hanukah gifts every day.
Christmas Eve was then a time of bonuses and gifts. When we were younger we thought about Santa, sugar plums and gifts.
Now, as an adult, other visions and images fill my head at Christmas time. Now, I await a cherished visit from out two sons and the camaraderie of Christmas day around the festive table. I long for the passage of health care that will provide shalom to all Americans. I await a country that is not at war. I await a nation where biblical justice, restorative justice not distributive justice, is the norm. I await a nation that welcomes strangers among us. I await a nation where people are respected regardless of their views, race, class, creed, sexual orientation or political affiliation.
None of this is what I see when I look around. I see wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I see insurance companies and pharmaceutical firms who are obstructing real health care reform. (We really need to follow the money on the campaign funds of our elected leaders.) I see talking heads stirring up hate in order to boost their ratings. I see people shouting and yelling at one another in town hall meetings. I see back-to-back stories in the National Catholic Reporters–“Bishops support war in Afghanistan,” “Bishops oppose health care reform.” In short, I see a world where Gospel values are lacking (But remember, we are a Christian nation!). I see a world where the church is complicit in injustice because as Dan Berrigan said so well, “The business of the church is BUSINESS.”
Yet, in spite of all this, I see hope. Zachariah’s Benedictus is a song of hope. It ends with God “will guide their feet on the path of peace.” Peace is shalom. Shalom is more than a greeting. Shalom is wholeness, health, well-being. Peace is not the absence of conflict. peace gained at the tip of the military sword is an ersatz peace. Peace is a sense of wholeness and well being that comes from realizing with Nouwen the Great Love–God loves us. God loves us without qualification. God loves us without condition. We need but claim God’s great love and compassion. It fills all our needs if we but let it.
Contemplative living–thoughtful living, mindful living–brings us into the presence of God. It enables us to show up. God will do the rest. Berrigan reminds us that contemplative living puts us on a collision course with empire and imperial ways.
Like John the Baptizer, when we proclaim peace during this season, we are proclaiming reform and personal metanoia. We are proclaiming a turning toward God and God’s values.
We have hope because God promised David, who wanted to close God up in a house, that God would take care of him and his people. God would ever be with them. God would be dwelling within the people and not in a temple made by human hands.
In a few hours we will celebrate God with us. We will re-member Jesus-with-us. Jesus the Christ became human so that we might become divine.
There is hope. We hope for the end to war. We hope that every American will have food, clothing, shelter, health care and education. We hope that Gospel values will trump greed. We hope that church leaders will make Gospel values the business of the church. We hope that leaders will see nonviolence as the first step toward resolving disagreements.
We hope because we see the light–the Light of the World. Historically, Christmas, celebrating the birth of Jesus, was put in the darkest days of the year. Non Christian religions celebrated the Sun and feasts of light. Christians thought, “Hmm. Christ is the Light. Let’s create our own reason to celebrate in the midst of darkness.
When it is dark, we see Light. When things are desperate, we see Hope. When war is the mode, we see Peace. Jesus is our Light, our Hope, our Peace. All is well and all will be well.
Have a blessed, joyous, peace-filled Christmas!